On Wednesday, October 15, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) endorsed the Security and Freedom Ensured Act (SAFE) of 2003, which was introduced in the Senate on October 2 by Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). The legislation (S. 1709) would amend parts of the USA Patriot Act, including Section 215, which gives law enforcement officials broad authority to demand that libraries or bookstores turn over books, records, papers, and documents.
"The introduction of a bi-partisan bill in the Senate to limit bookstore and library searches under the Patriot Act is the clearest sign yet that Attorney General Ashcroft's public relations campaign [to drum up support for the USA Patriot Act] has failed," said Chris Finan, president of ABFFE. "Congressional support continues to grow for restoring the privacy protections eliminated by Section 215."
SAFE limits searches under the Patriot Act to the records of people who are "foreign agents" engaged in acts of espionage or terrorism. S. 1709 requires the FBI to have "specific and articulable facts" that show that the person it is targeting is a foreign agent before it may seek a search order from the secret FISA court. The bill also limits other powers given to the FBI by the Patriot Act, including the power to conduct "roving" wire taps and to issue National Security Letters, which authorize searches of library computers, and "sneak and peak" search warrants.
Two other Republicans, Mike Crapo of Idaho and John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, are co-sponsoring the bill, S. 1709. The other Democratic co-sponsors of S.1709 are Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
The SAFE Act is the fourth bill introduced in the Senate that would restore the protections for the privacy of bookstore customers and library patrons that were eliminated by the Patriot Act and the second to be introduced by a Republican. ABFFE has endorsed Feingold's Library, Bookseller, and Personal Records Privacy Act (S. 1507), the Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act (S. 1552), introduced by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and the Library and Bookseller Protection Act (S. 1158), introduced by Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
The campaign to amend the sweeping powers of the USA Patriot Act began in March 2003, when Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157), which would amend Section 215. Sanders' bill currently has 137 co-sponsors.